Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
The Suquamish United Church of Christ, pastored by Tom Thresher (whom I have mentioned here before), is an emergent "Integral Church."
From the website:"Integral Church" embodies the full potential of the human experience, the cultural stories that give us meaning, the behaviors that serve humanity, and the social dynamics of a caring community.
A central dynamic of this church — and likely any church seeking to become more integrally informed — is a sense of playfulness. Our playfulness stems from our willingness to not take ourselves too seriously.
By willingly subjecting our views, opinions and beliefs to loving challenge we open ourselves to new possibilities and increasingly direct connection with the Divine.
Here's a video on the evolving church.
A couple of years ago or something, you told me you had nothing against the inherent naivety of tibetan altars, the photographies of teachers, the murtis, the prostrations and all the salamalecs as we say in french to paraphrase the never-ending muslims rituals of showing humility "Salam u Aleikum" (peace be with you)-
they served a certain purpose in an all-including context, you told me.
How do you look at that today?
Hi, X, yes, I would say I still do not see any inherent problem with the use of ritual, the creation of altars, etc. My wife maintains a Hindu altar in our home and performs her daily puja there, and I like the way this contributes to the atmosphere in our home. I also used to keep a Tibetan-style altar, and while I no longer do so, I did appreciate at the time the "orienting" and intention-reinforcing function that the altar (and the routine dedicated to it) helped establish for me.
Clearly, these sorts of routines and practices can (sometimes rather quickly) become mechanical and rather meaningless, or encourage a slavish or dependent sort of mind-set. And I'm not really in favor of that. (I recall Krishnamurti experimentally, and playfully, turning a can of Coca-Cola into an object of worship for a time, just to see what would happen.)
What does the church mean in this sense?
a congregation of disciples gathering to worship together a shared faith?
In this case, sharing means to truly accpet even doubts and radical critiques of interpretations of theological corpus, direct experiences of fusion with the deity, sexual, gender, queer, racial, non-nuclear family, agism approaches
How can a group survive such violent centrifugal dynamics at play and keep an overall umbrella like cohesion?
Here's an article by Thresher at progressivechristianity.org. A few snippets:
So imagine, if you will, a church that gives people permission to be exactly where they are on their spiritual journey and simultaneously offers multiple invitations into possibilities just beyond (and sometimes way beyond) their current comfort level. Imagine if this were done with attention to a suitable spectrum of interior capacities, with “Christian stories” appropriate to different stages of the journey, and with a variety of venues for engaging the social, economic and political structures surrounding us. In other words, imagine a church actively inviting the congregation to move through modern awareness into postmodernity and beyond without abandoning its traditional roots.
In this church we offer a spectrum of Christian stories to nurture people on their journeys. For those who want to challenge their conventional beliefs we offer them doubt, and welcome their well reasoned agnosticism and even atheism. Science, evolution, the historical humanity of Jesus, and the social construction of the Bible are all welcomed here.
Postmodern pluralism is welcomed through “Many Stories….One Community”.... Our integral story resonates with the Universe Story as developed by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. Swimme makes the audacious claim that the radical relativism of postmodern deconstruction can be contextualized by the universe as a meta-story.
The opportunities for personal exploration occur primarily in two venues. The first we call Transformational Prayer. This program combines the constructive-developmental work of Robert Kegan with the inquiry of Byron Katie.... The second opportunity for personal exploration we call TAGS (Talking About God Stuff). It’s quite simple: We watch a video, stop it whenever an interesting point arises, and see where the conversation leads.
I took Tom Thresher's workshop on Integral Church at the 2010 Integral Theory Conference -- and really enjoyed it. And I bought his book, Reverent Irreverence, which I hope to have time to read this summer. In the workshop, he showed a few film/video clips he might use for TAGS (Talking About God Stuff), which included Dogma, The Last Temptation of Christ, and The Elegant Universe.
More on TAGS from Thresher's book --
TAGS has met weekly for more than six years and has a dedicated following. Close to half the participants consider themselves part of our church, even if they never attend regular worship services. These folks find "church" in the intimacy and exploration that occurs in a group of roughly 10 to 15.
The leader's role is to create a safe space for wide-ranging discussion. This requires that the leader not be defensive or dogmatic on any topic. In fact, an effective facilitator will bring up controversial topics and raise questions others might not broach. In our TAGS group, I am often challenged and will propose controversial ideas. By questioning my beliefs and not responding defensively I, in the role of pastor, give permission to explore foundational beliefs. Individuals' foundational beliefs may be challenged but they are never attacked. They may be questioned for clarification and others may articulate a different view, but attack is not permitted. Simply by articulating invisible unexamined beliefs faith becomes more expansive and inclusive.
The great value of TAGS is the creation of a forum where foundational beliefs can be articulated and examined. Topics such as good and evil, God and Jesus, the nature of the self, and the history of the universe are all included in an expansive discussion...
Interesting. Thanks for sharing that, Edward; I hadn't seen that before, but it seems to echo some of the things we've been discussing here lately. X has a good point that a community such as he describes sounds as if it would be pulled centrifugally in many directions, and I don't think I can answer very well how that can be managed. It seems Tom is pulling it off, though, maybe by structuring various services and classes and such at different times to accommodate different needs, values, and interests; and maybe by establishing the space primarily as a space of 'meeting' and 'practice' in which open questioning is permitted, rather than as a space of 'belief.'
And Mary, thanks for the additional nuggets. Was he present, by the way, at the Christian Multi-lingualism/"Tower of Babel" presentation we both attended at ITC 2010?
I just spent the last hour researching the United Church of Christ. It's kinda interesting. It's history closely parallels the development of the United Church of Canada. Here in Canada the United Church is the most liberal mainstream Christian Church, and in some churches they do all kind of wacky stuff like quasi-wiccan ceremonies or Buddhist style meditations, etc. They are so ecumenical that one almost expects them to insist on saying "season's greetings" instead of "merry christmas" so as to not offend anyone. haha. (I was raised in the United Church of Canada.)
In the States, he United Church of Christ is a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Churches and the Congregational Christian Churches.
The Evangelical and Reformed Churches was a merger of the Evangelical Synod and the Reformed Church. The Reformed Church was a merger of the German Reformed Church and various Hungarian Calvinists. The Evangelical Synod formed as a reaction against the antagonism between Reformed and Lutheran Churches and it stressed moderation, peity, and emotive experientialism. The structure of the Evangelical and Reformed Churches is roughly presbyterian, stressing the role of elders or prebyters.
The Congregational and Christian Churches is a merger of the General Council of Congregational Churches and the General Convention of Christian Churches. American congregationalists were dervived from the original Puritan christians that came to America. They stressed congregationalism, the involvment of the whole congregation in governance. Originally founded on a sense of their own freedom from the Church of England and presbyterianism, over time they came to reflect values like equality and democratic representation as well as justice and fairness. This lead to their prominence in the social gospel that would eventually appear. The Church also came to reflect the value of openness to other cultures, and their congregation came to reflect this as immigrants from a range of cultures joined with them. Eventually a complete break with the pessimism and harsh haranguing of the older puritanical congregationalism was made, and religious conservatives in the group generally left to join with the Baptists while social conservative left for the Presbyterians. By the turn of the century the Congregationalist were perhaps the most ecumenically oriented of the mainstream Christian Churches.
The Christian Church developed in America as a reaction against the rigid theology, liturgy, and ecclesiology inherited from the old world. The movement appears to have begun when a Methodist minister reacted against an attempt to move toward the establishment of episcopal bishops within the Methodist churches in his area. He formed the Republican Methodist Church, but the name was changed when it was felt that the church's name should not reflect worldly political terminology. The church was baically Wesleyan in approach but revivalist and restorationist. It stressed personal faith and experience as well as acts of charity and good deeds.
Eventually, the Congregational and Christian churches merged to form the Congregational Christian Churches. Ecumenism was one of their core values of the Church was instrumental in the later formation of the World Council of Churches.
Some time later talks began for a merger between the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches. The latter was basically presbyterian and not congregationalist in nature, and some in the CCC balked. Those who did eventually left to form the National Association of Christian Churches.
In 1956 the merger was approved and in 1961 the United Church of Christ was instituted. It is described as having liberal to very liberal views, stressing civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, etc. Gary Lynn, a prominent UCC minister, is executive director of Americans for the Separation of Church and State. The Church is quite pluralist and stresses an openness toward diversity. It is described as the "most left leaning" of mainstream Christian Churches.
The UCC recently canonized Shri Shri Bhagavan Kenwilberananda, promoting him to the status of "perfunctory demigod of the United Church of Christ." hahaha. kidding.
The United Church of Canada was basically the merger of the large protestant churches of the United Kingdom, with the exception of the Anglican Church (or what Yankees call the Episcopal Church). So that means it was a merger of the Congregational, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches. Today it is the second largest church in Canada, surpassed only by the Catholics. There are stll Methodist and Presbyterian churches but they are quite small by comparison.
My sense is that with all these multiple mergers, things get progressively more liberal, so as to accomodate differences.
Kenny would probably call the United Church of Canada "green." hahaha
If a kennilingust calls something green* then I'd bet it is most likely turquoise, especially in the realm of pomo religion. (To wit, my voluminous and never-ending defense of Caputo and Derrida against charges of greenery.)
* Their skewed orange-tinged glasses misperceive the subtle shading differences between green and turquoise, since orange cannot see the mixture of blue with green due to its own unconscious and dogmatic blue shadow. I know, this sounds ridiculous, but no more so than the usual tieranting about green. This is 3rd tier aikido, using one's own absurd arguments against the perpetrator.
'How can a group survive such violent centrifugal dynamics at play and keep an overall umbrella like cohesion?'
I can only speak from the point of view of things here in Canada, and as a start, say that as far as the United Church here is concerned, simply, that they do survive precisely because of their openness, while it is the other churches like the Anglican Church -- which suffers from a schizoid polarization between tradition and reform, conservatism and liberalism (and keep in mind that one can also be both liturgically traditional and theologically liberal, just to another centrifugal tangent) -- that appear to be imploding. If one doesn't like what they are doing in the United Church one can always leave, and while some are leaving, I don't think they are doing so in the droves that they are in the other denominations. At the same time, it appears that while trying to accomodate pluralist concerns they are also attempting to accomodate the recent move toward "individualist" spirituality. So (the appeal goes), rather that doing your "personal spirituality" alone, you can always "come out and do it with others at the United Church of Canada, where nearly anything goes!" At the same time there is an enormous stress upon community with the Church, not only within the Church, but with the larger Christian community, the larger community of religious liberals (Jews, Muslims, etc.), and the very community of the neighborhood itself. (They routinely have suppers for the homeless, eg.)
What does the church mean in this sense?
a congregation of disciples gathering to worship together a shared faith?